The four eyed athlete

glasses

Image description: nerdy black glasses

There are many, many  reasons I’m not a pro athlete. Let me count the ways. Glasses are just one of them. But I am aware that they get in the way of even my recreational athletic activities.

My eye problems are complicated. You can actually read about them at the disabled philosophers blog.

Short version: My eyesight is pretty good really and my middle distance sight is just fine. It’s long distance and print I struggle with the most. But I can’t wear contacts so I am always trying to make the call whether to go without or to wear glasses. For soccer I wear them but I wear an older pair so I won’t worry too much about heading the ball and killing pricey frames.  For cycling I have special glasses, of course. And Aikido, it’s on and off. I take them off for rolling drills and techniques that involve throwing.

The Warrior Dash was a source of anxiety. Mud and glasses don’t mix well. But then neither does scaling obstacles without corrective lenses! In the end I wore my prescription sunglasses and I’m glad I did. I had to scrape mud off a few times but I did need them to navigate some of the trickier obstacles.

Rain is just awful for the active glasses wearer. I wish they came with wipers on some bike rides. And I’ve had soccer matches I’ve had to sit out because of rain.

How about you? Are you a fellow four eyed athlete? When do you wear them? When not? How do handle this quandry?

On being a sports parent

Image description: The stands at Fletcher’s Fields in Markham, Ontario.

A rugby parent, to be specific.

There are many signs that I’m a rugby parent.

I have a copy of Rugby for Dummies on my Kindle from when I set out to learn the basic rules a few years ago.

(I noticed early on that rugby parents on the sidelines were nicer than hockey parents. There was very little second guessing the refs, yelling at the players, or arguing with the coaches. I mentioned this to my son’s coach, saying how pleasant I found it and he burst my optimistic bubble, “Oh, they just don’t understand the rules of rugby so they keep quiet.”)

You can also tell we’re sports parents because our car has collapsible camp chairs in the trunk for watching games.

We also keep the car well stocked with Gatorade and sun screen. Oh, and there’s a cleat tightening tool in the glove box. That’s a dead give away.

July is rugby month in our house. Actually it begins in June and ends mid August but July is all rugby all the time.

My son plays with a local club two practices and one game a week. He also plays with the competitive Ontario team, the Junior Blues U15. That’s one more practice and another game each week.

He started playing in Australia while I was on sabbatical there four years ago. He kept it up, and played for a school team in New Zealand on my sabbatical in Dunedin, NZ last year.

I’m super proud of his athletic achievements. One hundred and fifty kids tried out for the Ontario team and forty made it. After a month’s play the coaching team chose twenty of them to travel to British Columbia for the national rugby championships in Victoria. My son is going. That’s great that he was selected but I also think there’s real value in putting yourself out there in a competitive process and facing failure.

The day that I wrote this I only had to drive to Guelph. That’s about 120 km away. But the day before was Markham, add another 100. Next up, Belleville, add another 150 km. There’s a lot of driving involved.

A friend who is a hockey dad recently got deep vein thrombosis in his left calf. “Ah, the 401,” says the doctor knowingly, “Does it all the time.”

It’s a huge commitment. Parents have to make a large investment of time, money, and energy. Lots of money, lots of fuel, lots of driving, lots of meals on the road, lots of laundry. You name it. There’s more of it.

More than other things in our life it brings home to us how privileged our children are. It’s hard to imagine many families being able to afford this.

Rugby even affected our car choice. Our purchase of a hybrid was sparked by the realization we’d be making many trips to Toronto and environs in the months ahead.

Luckily it’s a sport I love watching.

Phew. My standing rule is that I watch games but not practises.During practises I do university work, blog, surf the internet, jog, ride my road bike, do burpees. Sometimes I shop.

It also matters that team sports are a force for good in this child’s life. He’s polite, punctual, a team player and these are all lessons he’s had reaffirmed by his involvement in sports.

What are the gender politics of being a rugby parent?

It’s been pretty impressive so far. The coaching crew refer to us as “parents.” No one calls me a “rugby mum.” They don’t seem perturbed by the different last names in our house.

And there seems to be good mix of mothers and fathers involved. I love that so many dads take on this aspect of parenting. I also love that mothers aren’t asked to bake, cook, or clean etc.

The main coach for my son’s team is a woman, a former member of the Canadian national team, and I like that.

My son is also pretty respectful of my own athletic achievements. We’re the early rising exercisers in our house and we frequently compare how much we can lift, how far and fast we run, etc. These days he’s ahead in just about everything, of course. He also always asks how my own games go.

Oh, and I also like non gendered team names. All the boys teams are the Blues and the girls’ teams are all called Storm. So my son plays on the Junior Blues U15 team but if I had same aged daughter she’d be playing on the Junior Storm. I like that!

Book Review: Taking Up Space

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I’m a big fan of Go Kaleo so I was happy to see that Amber Rogers has put a lot of her important message into a new book called Taking Up Space.

The very idea of taking up space is feminist to the core. It challenges traditional assumptions about what it means to be a woman, about what it means to be feminine: “smaller, thinner, lighter, softer, quieter, daintier.”

Amber Rogers is tired of it:

I have a body that takes up space.  I have opinions that take up space. I have a healthy sense  of self-worth and that takes up space too.

Like most of the books that I like to blog about, this one promotes an anti-diet approach.  Why?  Because

Our diet culture is designed to keep us fat and sick; hating and doubting ourselves because when we doubt ourselves we will buy more useless crap.

So although the book will be helpful to women who want to lose weight and learn how to maintain a healthy body weight, it is not your average diet book. Don’t expect a quick fix, detailed eating plans, or a detailed exercise routine.

After her disclaimers about people with serious medical conditions and eating disorders (namely, see your doctor, you shouldn’t be getting your info from a book or a blog), she introduces the three rules that guide her approach to weight loss and maintenance:

1. Make peace with your body.

2. Acknowledge that there is an appropriate amount of food your body needs to support your activity and a healthy weight, and that calories are relevant.

3. You’re allowed to eat whatever you want.

The section on making peace with our bodies is full of well-researched information about the “flaws” so many women hate: cellulite, normal fat storage (gluteal-femoral fat reserves), belly pooch, and those various lumps, bumps, veins, hairs, and stretch marks that, as she so nicely puts it, are the “evidence life leaves on our bodies.” Let’s love our bodies a bit more.

Rule #2 introduces the book’s main concept, which is that we need to eat the amount of food our bodies need to support our activity and a healthy weight.  For this, calories matter.

If you have followed the Go Kaleo blog, you will know already that energy balance and metabolic health are high priorities for Amber Rogers.  I have blogged about her metabolic health approach here. Much of that good information is provided again in this book.

She gives the usual information, by now well-supported, about the body’s natural famine-response or starvation-response to severely restricted diets.  In essence, if you drastically cut calories, you’ll lose quickly for a short period of time and then your amazing body will adapt.  The metabolism will slow down to support the body’s functioning on less.

So, in order to maintain a healthy weight without compromising your metabolism, it’s necessary to bring calories into the equation.  Most women need 2000-3000 calories a day to support their activity level at a healthy weight.  And yet most weight-loss diets max out at about 1200 calories a day. Do the math.  You can’t eat that much less, move more, and expect your body to handle it indefinitely without a famine-response.

She links to a calculator  that helps figure out how many calories a day you need to support the weight you want. It’s a great tool. You may be surprised at the result. I know I was.

I turned the dials to reflect my gender, age, weight, height, activity level, and the hours I spend sitting and sleeping, and it turns out that in theory I need 2700 calories a day to support my weight.

I say in theory because I am sure that most days I don’t eat anywhere near that and yet I still weigh about the same as I did back in January (when I stopped weighing myself). So I must be doing something wrong because my caloric intake should support a lower weight.  If the information Amber provides in the book is correct (and I’m not doubting it; she’s very convincing), then the most likely thing I’m doing wrong is not eating enough, and probably not enough protein.

Food quality does matter. She recommends one gram of protein per pound of body weight, an amount I personally find overwhelming. For me, that’s over 130 grams of protein a day and I can rarely manage it.

Knowing whether you’re getting what you need involves tracking. I hate tracking. She acknowledges that lots of people have a troubled history with tracking and that it’s not essential. But she thinks it’s the only method that is guaranteed to work. Why? Because it really is about calories in and calories out.

Two things she says make me think I might be able to work with her approach, including tracking (for a period of time). First, she re-frames it not as a tool of restriction but as a tool of seeing that we are getting enough.  Second, she notes that it’s temporary. She says: “Tracking for awhile teaches you how to judge proper portion sizes, how much food you need to meet your energy needs, and how to put balanced meals together. Over time, these skills become habit and you can leave the tracking behind.”

I did try this a few months ago when I became determined to increase my protein to at least 100 grams a day.  I tracked for about a week.  And I confess that I did find that I was falling short most days, not just on protein, but on calories.  But the thing is, I went to bed every night feeling totally stuffed.  It went against everything I have been doing to internalize the principles of intuitive eating. So this is something I’ll need to work with a bit to see if it’s going to work for me. Frankly, intuitive eating is more important, but I can do it while still trying to make choices that are higher in protein.

Amber is very sensible about weight. She notes that many of us may have a too-low goal weight in mind, and provides a few guidelines for determining whether the weight you aspire to is a reasonable weight for you to maintain.

She encourages slow weight loss that preserves lean mass, metabolic health, and leads to successful maintenance. That means resistance training, eating enough, and developing a sustainable and enjoyable exercise routine. She cites research studies that show that regular activity is essential to weight maintenance.

In order to lose moderately and without metabolic damage, “you are essentially going to eat the amount of food that will support a healthy weight.” The calculator cited above will tell you what you need to know if you dial in your goal weight and take it from there. She gives a few more details that you can find if you read the book.

If you follow her recommendations about caloric intake, choose a healthy—not unreasonable—goal weight, and maintain a regular exercise routine that includes resistance training at least three times a week, you should find yourself eventually leveling off at a healthy weight. At that point you can turn your attention to “body recomposition.”

That’s the process of changing the percentage of lean mass to fat mass. If you maintain the same weight but increase your lean mass and decrease your fat mass, your body will start to look different.  Amber herself has undergone gradual changes in body composition over the years that show up dramatically in the photo series that makes up the banner of her blog.

For those who have moved into the body recomposition phase, she provides some good tips: eat the calories for maintenance, get plenty of protein, eat carbs too, keep in mind that it’s possible for a healthy woman to gain 2 pounds of lean mass a month, don’t restrict fat, EAT, experiment, do resistance training for strength, get rest, and get rid of guilt.

She has a separate section geared towards those who are in recovery from starvation, including a list of signs to help determine if you have an eating disorder.  I won’t go into the details here, but it is an informative section. The most important advice contained there is to seek professional medical treatment.

The third rule says you’re allowed to eat whatever you want to eat. You will find no specific food plans here.  The main guideline is to eat a wide variety of whole foods, including protein and carbs. Nothing is forbidden.  Treats are important so that you don’t feel deprived.

For many people, this will be a revolutionary idea that might require some further work.  I recommend Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch and If Not Dieting, Then What?  by Rick Kausman if you need a bit more about the transition from restrictive diets to unrestricted healthy eating.

Finally, though the book doesn’t focus on exercise, Amber sees “physical activity, not diet, as the cornerstone of health.” Diet’s main function is to support our physical activity, to provide energy and fuel so we can do what we like to do. Find something you enjoy and make it a regular part of your life.

I’ve gone into the book in some detail because I think the information contained is important. But I have still only sketched out the main ideas. The book is worth reading if you are seeking to lose weight or feel happy with your weight but are wondering how you might shift the lean mass to fat mass percentages around.

I have the ebook on my kindle and my iPad, and I feel it’s absolutely worth the $9.99 it cost.  The focus on metabolic health and energy balance makes it unique among weight loss books. I don’t think it’s a negative thing that the book provides information about how to lose weight. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to shed a few pounds, gain lean mass, and achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

Amber provides enough information about how to choose a realistic body weight, and emphasizes that in lots of cases the right healthy body weight for you might not match the ideal you have always had in mind: it might well be heavier.

That’s one of the things I like most about her book, other than that it’s well-researched and full of excellent, reasonable information. By the end of it, it’s not just okay to be at a weight that’s a bit higher than you’ve always had as a goal, it’s even desirable.  Even though I gave up weighing myself and swore off dieting back in January, this is the first book I’ve read where I actually feel at the end of it like I’m totally good with the weight I’m at right now. 100%.

If you are a regular follower of Go Kaleo! you will find most of the information is not totally new to you. Amber is up front about this. But it’s good to have it all between two covers (even virtually), and she deserves support for the amazing work she is doing free of charge on the blog!

The skirt chaser: Worst race idea ever?

I think it just might be.

Here’s the basic idea of the Skirt Chaser. It’s a 5 km run in which “skirts start first and guys start  3 min after” and then the guys chase the skirts. The skirt chaser. Get it?

(I’ve got mixed feelings about running skirts–for me, if you like them, great–and this race is put on by a running skirt manufacturer but my feelings about the race have nothing to do with skirts and everything to do with men chasing women. Read Running skirts and sexism for my views on the skirts.)

What a horrible idea for a race.

There’s a reason that the “Run for your life” Zombie run is fun and funny for some of us. It’s make believe. There are no zombies in the real world to run from. But if you’ve ever run from a man, the skirt chaser won’t feel like fun. It’s a bit too close to real life for me.

What do you think?

I know the days of the plain old vanilla 5 km race might be over but I was thinking that the replacements would be fun and playful not creepy and triggering.

The next one is in Burnaby on September 13th.

Image description: women running in skirts

Image description: Men chasing the women in skirts.

Gender, sports, and physical toughness

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Image description: Women’s rugby, Otago versus Aukland

Little girls often grow up protected from injuries and danger in a way that boys aren’t. We swaddle little girls in cotton wool and teach them to be fearful of dogs, wasps, bugs, cuts, scrapes, and bruises.

The boy version of this treatment isn’t much better. “Toughen up buttercup.” Worse yet, “Man up,” or “Have some balls.”

Boys can hardly ever cry without scorn and derision. I’ve seen seriously injured young men be afraid of showing pain or fear and that can’t be healthy either.

The worlds of boys and girls are radically different places, even for infants.

I recall when my six month old daughter was wearing a red onesie an air conditioner repair guy once punched her in the arm, in a friendly way, and said, “Way to go Tiger, Grrr.”

Tiger? Grrr?

If he knew she was a girl he’d have apologized and so I didn’t say a thing.

My daughter turned out pretty fearless and I’d like to take some credit for that.

Of course athletes can’t have these fears of scrapes, bruises, and broken bones. And so goes the mismatch between ladylike values and the norms athletic performance which I’ve blogged about before. See Do ladylike values clash with the norms of sports performance?.

Women’s bodies are supposed to be all soft, without signs of wear and tear. See On the wearing (or not) of gloves and the care and feeding of calluses.

Of course, having soft hands is also a class issue, a sign you don’t do manual labour. Lots of women are socialized to not even get their hands dirty. I am often the one called on–when riding bikes with a group of women, in a mixed group some guy always volunteers–to get chains back on. Yes, your hands will get bike grease on them but I’ve always thought that was one of the reasons bike shorts usually come in black. The other reason is here. Apologies if that was new to you.

My son plays rugby and it’s a rough game. It’s rare he emerges from a game without a new bruise or cut. No ambulances this time around but two players have been bandaged and the medics have made a half dozen trips out on to the field.  (I’m writing as I watch a game, bad rugby mother but I’ll be blogging about being a sports parent later!) If I had a daughter who wanted to play I hope I’d encourage her just as much.  Certainly, I regret that I didn’t get a chance to play rugby. It looks like a lot of fun to me. (See Indoor Soccer, Team Sports, and Childhood Regrets.)

I’ve written a bit about the value of dangerous sports and about gender and risk here.

I loved the Warrior Dash in part because it flew in the face of traditional feminine values. (See A few words about the Warrior Dash.) Let’s go run in the mud and our mothers won’t tell us not to get dirty! I think that’s certainly part of the popularity of the Dirty Girl races. We’ll have a guest blogger writing about the Dirty Girl race in Buffalo at the start of September. I’m looking forward to hearing her perspective.  The Warrior Dash also had lots of mud. At the end of the Warrior Dash we were covered in it. And I haven’t checked in with my Warrior Dash companion and cousin but for me washing off the mud revealed some pretty serious bruises and scrapes.

Sometimes I feel the need to tell people I’m not a battered spouse. I have Aikido bruises, rowing scars, soccer bruises, and now Warrior wounds.

Some people wonder how you could even like an activity that results in bruises and scrapes. But there’s a kind of physical toughness that athletic activity requires. I ride my bike in the rain and although I struggle now more than I used to when young, I try not to let the cold put me off the outdoors.

I’m not saying I enjoy getting hurt but truth be told when I’m playing I don’t notice. I’m not proud of the battle wounds but I am proud of my physical toughness.

Here’s some video footage from Dirty Girl and Warrior Dash and the Stanford women’s rugby team. Does it sound odd to your ears to hear young women saying “I like to hit people” or “Tackling is fun”?

Will bike riding in Saudi Arabia change the way women dress?

I’m curious.

After all, it was the bicycle that fueled the “rational dress movement” associated with early North American feminism.

Women said goodbye to restrictive skirts, corsets and crinolines and hello to bloomers.

Here’s Elizabeth Cady Stanton on women’s clothing and bicycling:

“Men found that flying coat tails were ungainly and that baggy trousers were in the way [when cycling] so they changed their dress to suit themselves and we didn’t interfere,” Stanton told a reporter in 1895. “They have taken in every reef and sail and appear in skin tight garments. We did not bother our heads about their cycling clothes, and why should they meddle with what we want to wear? We ask nothing more of them than did the devils in Scripture – ‘Let us alone.’”  http://www.annielondonderry.com/womenWheels.html

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The comic above is from Punch magazine. It’s titled “The Supremacy of the Skirt.”

Will the same thing happen in Saudi Arabi now that women are allowed to ride bikes?

See Women and the Wheel.

“The first feature-length film directed and shot by a female in Saudi Arabia is making its rounds on the festival circuit. Wadjda, a 2012 movie by Haifaa al-Mansour, follows a young girl living in the capital city of Riyadh who dreams of owning a green bicycle she sees everyday in a shop window. Bike riding by females is outlawed in Saudi Arabia (or was at the time the film was shot), so the girl’s mother refuses to buy her the bike, prompting her to hatch a plan of her own to purchase it.

But in April of this year, around the time Wadjda was being screened at the Gulf Film Festival in Dubai (Saudi Arabia has no movie theaters), Arabic newspaper al-Yaum announced that the religious police of Saudi Arabia had lifted the ban prohibiting women from riding bicycles and motorbikes in public. The country’s interpretation of Islam still prevents females from driving cars, but they’re now allowed to cycle in designated areas, such as parks — not as a mode of transportation or in a competitive capacity — and only if they’re accompanied by a male and dressed in their full-body abaya.”

Image description: A woman biking wearing a burqa.

See Saudi Arabian Religious Police ‘Lift Bicycle Ban For Women’ – As Long As They Wear A Veil & Are With A Male Relative

(Deaf) Woman Alone on the Trail (Guest post)

My fitness activities of choice are hiking, trail running, and just plain running. I don’t mind gym workouts – long before I became a philosopher I earned my living as a personal trainer and group exercise and dance instructor – but as a philosopher on the tenure track, I want my fitness activity to do double duty, which means mental rejuvenation is just as important as physical. This means I need a fair amount of solitary activity to offset my urban lifestyle.

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Image description: left side of photograph is dominated by tall, striking, red rock cliffs. There is a small deciduous tree with bright green leaves in the lower left foreground. The dirt trail begins at the right lower corner and curves to the left, with a rocky rise on the right of the trail, and a few shrubs to the left of the trail, which is lower ground.

I just returned from a (car) camping and hiking vacation at Capitol Reef National Park in the Four Corners area of the American Southwest. I kicked off each day with a baby hike (4-10 miles) of moderate elevation gain (800-2000 feet). This is not so different from my usual summer routine, where I hike several times a week, mostly in the Sandia Mountains just east of Albuquerque, which is home when I’m not in Washington, DC.

Whether I am hiking in the Sandias or at Capitol Reef National Park, invariably I get this question: are you hiking alone?

Usually I don’t hear the question the first time, since I’m lost in a reverie of philosophical thought, so I point to my ears, mention that I’m deaf, and ask them to repeat. The deafness reveal often freaks them out even more – that a deaf woman hikes alone is beyond their ken, I suppose.

Mind you, I’m pretty sensible about my hiking routine.

I always carry a daypack with the Ten Essentials and then some. This includes a first aid kit, cell phone, extra clothing, survival blanket, rope and small lightweight tarp for emergency shelter, signaling mirror, food, water and water purification tablets, compass, waterproof matches, lighter, newspaper squares, whistle, knife, flashlight, work gloves, toilet paper, USGS topo maps (since GPS isn’t always reliable and batteries die but paper doesn’t), sunscreen, bug repellent, collapsible trekking poles, philosophy reading material, pens, and paper to write on. Okay, so maybe I should have called this the 25+ Essentials!

I never hike without telling at least one person what trail I’ll be on, and I leave information about the trail, my time of departure and my ETA guesstimate on my car seat. I also pick hiking trails based on traffic. I hike less traveled trails on the weekends and major trails (the hiking equivalent of interstate highways) during the week.

I’ve spent a fair chunk of my adult life living on or near national forests or other public lands. I’ve taught first aid and CPR to Forest Service trail crews. I’ve logged scores of hours doing fieldwork of various kinds, am decent at identifying animal scat (especially bear, coyote, and mountain lion scat), tracking patterns, and I’m blessed with an extremely keen nose – I often smell large mammals before I see them. Weird, I know!

I’m as comfortable in the backcountry as I am in a library.

So why the incredulity about a disabled woman solo hiking?

Perhaps the identity of who inquires is a tip-off.

I’m usually questioned by women in small groups or male-female couples. Their first response is concern for my safety. Mind you, these aren’t what I’d call serious hikers – they’re usually hiking the first mile or two of the trail with nothing more than a bottle of water and a cell phone. (I like to think of this as the trail version of the Dunning-Kruger effect –- that is, the cognitive bias of those with little competence and lots of confidence, who lack the skill to see that they are incompetent, and thus overestimate their competence.)

I’ve yet to be questioned by a solo hiker. That said, in my experience the ratio of male to female solo hikers is about what you’d see at an APA division meeting, with the number of solo middle-aged seemingly non-disabled women hikers roughly equivalent to the proportion of tenured M & E women philosophers at an APA – in other words, pretty small!

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Image description – shaded trail bisects photograph. Tall pine trees in background, lush green shrubbery on both sides of the trail, with dappled sunlight in the right corner and on the pine trees in the background.

Part of the problem here is that my take on safety probably differs from that of the concerned hikers. They are worried about (I think) rapes and muggings and bear attacks. I am not so worried about these things on the trail. In DC, well, that’s another matter… I am more worried about weather than wild animal attacks; I’m more worried about trail-inflicted injury than human-caused harm. Even these worries don’t dominate my thinking, but I do take care to notice signs of possible weather changes and to think through navigating tricky spots on the trail before I venture forth.

I’m well aware of the ethical issues related to solo hiking, and I’ve considered that disability adds a twist. (As I hike the trail this summer, I’ve been composing a paper in my head about this…)

In my case, the worry is about how sound impacts my safety. I mostly hike in rattlesnake country, and even though I am aware of the impact of elevation on rattlesnake habitat and how cold-blooded creatures respond to weather changes, I am still extra vigilant about scanning the trail and the surrounding brush for snakes. I step on logs, not over them. I hike when it is too hot for rattlers to venture out. In fact, scanning the ground for snakes is such a habit that I even do it while walking or running in Washington, DC, even though the chances of getting bit by a rattlesnake in this city are pretty slim. (Tempting as it may be, I refuse to impugn snakes by comparing them to another locally abundant population: politicians…)

Another worry is missing the environmental noises giving warning of danger – the sounds of a tree limb about to snap or a massive boulder tumbling down the hillside are sounds I will not hear. The chances of these happening are pretty small (I’ve been hiking all my life and have yet to experience either of these, though I do know Aron Ralston’s story). A more likely danger is human-related – mountain bike related, to be precise.

There’s a reason I don’t solo hike trails that permit mountain bike traffic.  Mountain bikers have the right of way, and riders usually assume that hikers can hear them. In fact, the last time I was hiking with a companion on a trail shared with mountain bikers, my friend pushed me off the trail as he leapt to the opposite side of the trail in order to avoid a biker careening down the hillside. I think this would have been a mad scramble even if I had been hearing, but that I do not hear bikers calling out warning means that I have to pick my trails carefully.

I suppose yet another concern for deaf hikers is the use of sound to locate lost or injured hikers. I’m adamant about staying on the trail and have pretty sound trail craft skills, but I’m well aware that in unfamiliar territory, a missed blaze or cairn can lead one astray. This is why I carry trail marking tape (biodegradable) and a compass, and why I often miss verbal enquiries lobbed my way by other hikers as they pass me on the trail – I am looking for trail indicators and tracks (humans and non-human animals). I’m extremely diligent about making sure I’m on the trail – which means I probably do much more unnecessary backtracking than most. (And for the local trails I hike all of the time, this isn’t an issue, of course!) I also know the first rule of what one should do if one IS lost: stay put.

The cost of human and economic resources expended on search and rescue missions can be extremely high. Locating a deaf person who cannot hear searchers calling out makes a rescue more difficult. But most search and rescue efforts deal with unprepared and inexperienced (hearing) hikers. I think that my prudence, caution, and experience significantly cuts down my chances of being the focus of a search and rescue effort.

I could tell many stories about the clueless hikers I encounter!

Here’s a sampling from last week: on Sunday I encountered two teenagers on the trail (about 3 miles in) at noon, they carried only one water bottle to share between them, and then asked me (in a slot canyon under deep tree cover) why their cell phones didn’t work. The next day I ran into a mother-daughter duo half a mile in from the trailhead, who told me they planned to hike to the crest (nine miles roundtrip with 2500 feet elevation gain). The mid-50s mother was wearing flip flops and carrying a water bottle, her twenty-something daughter was slightly more prepared with a Camelback and sneakers. Later in the week I chatted with two young men planning to day hike a 26 mile loop trail that included traversing over the mountain crest in mid-afternoon — this during a flashflood warning. They had scant water, no rain gear (they looked at me with incredulity when I asked) and no emergency supplies…

There are those who claim that hiking alone is always irresponsible.

I’m not sure I buy this; for one, hiking alone on a frequently traveled trail seems to be in a different category than hiking alone in true wilderness. And there are those who argue that women should hike in pairs or groups for safety. Safety here seems to mean mostly human-related danger, I think. Hiking alone can be done responsibly, just as hiking in groups can be incredibly irresponsible.

The default (should that be deafault?) assumption that a deaf woman hiking alone is taking a foolish risk is worth questioning. It says more about the questioner’s fears and biases about what women with disabilities can and should do than the evidence of the reality of risk on the trail.

On this twenty-third anniversary of the (U.S.) Americans with Disabilities Act, it is easy to think about the removal of barriers to access that are physical, structural, and institutional. But there are attitudinal barriers as well, and after a lifetime of people telling me I cannot or should not do things because of my hearing loss (starting with my high school vocational rehabilitation counselor’s suggestion that I forego college for cosmetology school), I’ve become quite deliberate about questioning their assumptions.

Why assume that the risks of solo hiking are significantly greater for a deaf female hiker than for an able-bodied hearing dude? Shouldn’t the assessment be of the particular hiker’s capabilities — of which being able to hear is only one capability?